Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Queen Bee · Supplemental Feeding

Cooking with Gas – April Updates

Enough propane to last a while!
Enough propane to last a while!

Today we got a very large propane tank to power our tiny home!   This will be the tank that provides propane to the house eventually, but it’s worth it even now — both for the convenience of having a reliable source of heat and hot water and for the cost savings.   We ran out of propane one of those well-below freezing nights over winter break, and we don’t want to make a habit out of that!   Getting up in the dark and the cold to drive 10 miles to get a tank of propane is not fun.   Well, it wasn’t bad for me as I turned the electric blanket up and waited for hubby to return, but it was no fun for him.

Future workshop site
Future workshop site

We’ve made other great progress this week.   Hubby has leveled the site for the future workshop.   He had to take down some trees and scrape off the top soil to get down to clay, so I now have temporary raised beds made from those trees and the soil for this year’s veggie garden.   I’ve also planted more grass, clover, and wild-flower seed to reduce erosion along the driveway while providing for the bees.   The bees are still very interested in the syrup buckets, so I’m impatient to see some nectar plants start supplying them with what they need.

Temporary raised beds
Temporary raised beds

For some reason, the well filter keeps clogging, and I wonder if the tree clearing across the creek has anything to do with it.   We ended up removing the filter after the third after-dark trip to the well house one night, but now silt clogs the sprinklers so they don’t turn off.   That made for an interesting shower last night — five sprinklers were running and I got to wash shampoo out of my hair with  the left over trickle.    After that, walking across the slick clay to turn off all the faucets in the dark was a challenge, but then I looked up at the beautiful night sky and the challenge turned into a blessing.   It’s been too long since we walked down the driveway after dark.   I love the electric gate opener, but I didn’t realize how much I missed our evening walks to go lock the gate.

The really good news is that most of the bee packages and splits we made are doing well.    Bees moved out of one of the hives that took a long time to release the queen, but the rest have eggs and/or brood in various stages and all of the queens are fat and active.   The hives in the old location are still battling small hive beetles, so we’re trying beetle traps made of Borax and Crisco paste in CD covers for the first time.    We’ll let you know how that goes.   The hives in the new, sunnier location have far fewer problems with beetles so far.

More good news is that I received a job offer for next school year, so I’ll be living at the farm full time after June.   That moved the workshop up the priority list as we’ll need somewhere to put all the tools from the garage, but at least we’ll no longer be moving carpentry projects up and down I-20!   I’m enjoying spring break, so I’m trying very hard to not think about packing up everything else in the house and getting the house on the market.   It’s much less stressful to think about being able to monitor the bees on a more consistent basis.

Blue bells
Blue bells – another childhood favorite of mine.

 

 

 

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Queen Bee · Relaxing

A Bee-filled Spring Break!

Violets
Violets

Spring break is finally here, and we are spending it with the bees and the trees!   The blackberries are starting to bloom and we see pollen coming into the hives, so the pace should be picking up in the apiary very soon.   Hubby drove down last weekend to check our walkaway splits from the prior week while I stayed home and rested my foot.   Yep, his back is getting better and my foot got worse, but we now both feeling better daily.

While hubby was here, he saw a post on LetGo about an apiary that was being liquidated because the apiarist had sadly passed away.   It seemed worth checking out, and it was; hubby made the 200 mile trip to Jesup, GA and returned with 10 packages of bees and 10 mated queens.   He installed the packages and two queens before returning to SC on Sunday and the remaining queens took a road trip!   We were able to get them all through the week in the city and back to the farm without any losses.

So, of course yesterday afternoon was all about making sure queens were out of their cages and finding homes for the other queens.   We had a couple of walkaway splits that had not produced a queen cell, so we added queens to those.   We decided to break up our evil hive into nucs with new queens and found that they did not currently have a queen, so our timing was perfect on that one.   They did have a recently opened queen cell, so we tore the hive down completely and moved the nucs to another part of the apiary, just in case there was a queen out on a mating flight.   That hive has remained aggressive through multiple requeenings, so we really don’t want their genetics to be perpetuated.

Bee yard
Bee Yard – March 2018

Last week and yesterday afternoon were a whirlwind of action,  so today will be about cleaning up the bee yard and figuring out how many hives we actually have now!   We’ll then start on complete inspections of established hives, including mite counts, and then get all of the new hives inspected over the next few days.   We have to pace ourselves so that our creaky old bones don’t pitch a fit again but balance that with figuring out where we stand.   My brain does not like not knowing  our numbers or inspection status any more than my ankle likes being twisted!

We remain hopeful that this will be our last spring of long-distance bee keeping.   I have some interviews lined up over spring break and my current school knows that I hope to move to Georgia.   Big changes like this make me nervous, but being here in the woods relieves all that stress and some…..

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Products and Vendors

Gains and losses

While I was checking hives on Saturday, I suddenly noticed bearding on the back of one of our weak hives.   I was in the middle of inspecting a strong hive, so all I could do was keep an eye on them.  The beard grew and then the dancing started — clearly a swarm in progress.   I puffed smoke in their direction in the slim hope that they’d go back where they came from, but of course they didn’t.  However, they only moved about 20 feet away and then they settled on a pine branch about a foot off the ground.  (What a time for my phone to be up in the camper charging!)

Swarm captured
Swarm captured

I grabbed a NUC, dropped it off by the swarm and and ran to the shipping container as fast as my tired legs and boots would allow to get the spray bottle and bee brush.  I splashed some more Pro Health into the sugar water because bees like the smell even more than I do and hurried back to the swarm.    I had plenty of frames with drawn comb because I’d already reduced some of the hives down to one brood box, so I set up the NUC, sprayed some sugar water with Pro Health on the frames, gently brushed the bees from the branch and watched the workers crawl down into the frames.  The queen soon followed and then the bulk of the remaining bees followed her.  I slid the inner cover across and then went to get my phone, giving them time to settle in.   When I returned, there were still some bees flying around, so I just put a cover on and left them there until the end of the day.  Hubby suggested that I put a frame of brood in the NUC, and the next hive I inspected had plenty to spare, so that worked out too.

The hive next to the one on which they’d bearded turned out to be empty, so I think that’s where they came from.  There were only 3 frames of bees in there last check, but I couldn’t collapse them down to one brood box because it was too cold to remove frames that trip — that’s a disadvantage of stapling the bottom brood box to the bottom board.  There were quite a few small hive beetles in the frames, so that may be the reason they decided to go elsewhere.   There were no dead bees in the bottom of the hive or around the hive, so swarming seems to be a more likely than a dead out.

With temps in the low seventies, I was able to collapse all the other weak hives down to one brood box and make a couple of splits from the strongest hives.  I was soon surprised to see the sun disappearing below the tree line.  I had two hives to go, but with daylight fading and temperatures dropping I resorted to simply putting another brood box on the mean hive (yes, I’d left them to last) and trusting that the other hive still had plenty of space.    All in all, it was a productive work day and I just hope the splits survive the cooler temperatures this week.

The English hive is also no longer leaning — the bottom board had actually slipped off the stand, so I did have to tear it all the way down.   One of the video bloggers we follow puts a queen excluder above the first brood box with the rationale that the brood will hatch in time to free up cells for the queen to lay more eggs.  That wouldn’t work with my hive as the queen had most of the two deeps and two mediums full of brood!   That’s our top producing and gentlest hive.   If I’d had more time, I could have made two splits out of it instead of just one, but I only had one NUC with me up at the garden.

We hope we can make it back to the farm next weekend as the swarm risk remains for at least two hives.   Hubby has been sidelined with a muscle sprain, so we’ll have to see how he’s doing by Friday.   I may have to make another trip on my own.   It was a beautiful drive back, and the dog no longer gets car sick, so all in all it was a great weekend.

 

Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing

My favorite time of year.

Little evokes as much childlike joy in me as the sight of the first crocus or early daffodil.  I think it has a lot to do with the long winters of England and Germany those first 27 years of my life.  A daffodil pushing up through the snow and blooming bright yellow was always such a welcome sign.  I’m not sure that people in warmer climates can ever quite grasp just how long and dreary winters are in other regions!

Daffodil
Daffodil

Not only are daffodils blooming at the farm and in the city, the buckwheat at the farm is sprouting with its promise of nectar for the bees.   Of course, the blackberries are too, but I’ll forgive them for snagging my pants so long as they feed the bees.  I see many colors of pollen coming in right now, but the bees are all over the syrup buckets now that I’ve tipped them so the remaining syrup can drain out.   I guess that means nectar is still in short supply out there.

According to my phone, it’s only 58 degrees, but the bees are very active despite that.   Of course the hives in the sun are more active than those in the shade.   I plan to check for space and the likelihood of swarms this afternoon, but it’s not quite warm enough yet.   I’ve spent the morning staging equipment for inspections and possible splits and doing the tedious job of scraping propolis off frames and wood ware.   That’s not a job I relish, but it’s sunny and the sky is blue so I’d rather do that than sit inside.  (Unless of course I’m grabbing another cup of coffee and blogging.)

I’ll start the inspections with the hives that had the lowest numbers of bees first just to make sure they haven’t experienced a population explosion and need another brood box.  By the time I finish that, it should be warm enough to check frames on the hives that I suspect are running out of space.   We had to limit ourselves to putting an additional box on top of the English hive last trip because, although they were jam packed, temperatures were starting to fall and we didn’t have time to do anything else.   That hive is also no longer centered on the bottom board and the second box is tipped a little, which is making the rest of the hive look precarious.   I think I’m going to have to bite the bullet and re-stack the whole darn thing.  It’s tempting to start with that one, but it’s always been our strongest producer so it’s the most likely to need to be split.

It’s 60 degrees – time to head back outdoors,  enjoy life and keep myself busy until it’s warm enough to do what I really came here for!

 

Bees · Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Supplemental Feeding

Cause for celebration!

New hive stands
New hive stands

While our spring results are not perfect, we are very happy to have only lost two hives this winter.    I thought we went into winter with over 20 hives, but when I updated the records yesterday morning, I found that we have 15 hives.   However, that makes the percentage we lost this winter even better — and our best year yet.   Even the two we lost probably would have made it through if we hadn’t had that incredibly long cold spell.  In fall, we long debated combining them with each other or with other hives as they were not strong, but they also weren’t quite that weak and they had honey.  We added candy boards in December and hoped for the best.   Neither hive even went into the candy boards.  There were actually some resources left in the frames, but the bees died clustered — about 3 cups of bees in each hive.    Sixteen degrees is just too cold and we are counting our blessings that the other hives are doing as well as they are.

With temperatures in the mid seventies on Saturday, many bees were out gathering pollen and every hive still had a good number of bees in the hive.   We even had to add a super to the English hive and the best other hives have 10 frames of bees.  A couple of hives only have three frames, but there was a variety of ages so the queen must be ramping up production.   Despite the sunshine and the warm temperature, the intermittent breeze had a chill to it so I didn’t pull any frames.  I counted frames of bees and tested the weight of the boxes.  It feels like some of the ladies have really been packing sugar into frames!   Hubby helped out on the last two hives and pulled some frames without a large number of bees on them and saw lots of wonderful bee bread, pollen, and nectar.

I was impatient (and over confident) in the morning and did a quick check of candy boards before suiting up.  Our generally worst tempered hive had no sugar left, so I decided to give them one of the candy boards from a dead-out.   The unappreciative little critters stung me right above my top lip, so I spent the rest of the weekend looking like I was trying to do that stupid duck-face thing!   Hopefully I’ll abide by “we live and we learn” in the future.   I almost look normal again today, which is good because I have to get a new ID made tomorrow.

New Wood Ware - New Colors
New Wood Ware – New Colors

While I was checking hives, hubby installed some more hive stands in the new location and then he painted all the new wood ware with paint from the reject shelf at Lowe’s.  I love the new colors!    I know some beekeepers prefer an all-white apiary, but bees orient on color.   That’s my excuse for our rainbow hives, and I’m sticking to it.   I know for sure that hubby would not pick magenta if he was the only one working the bees, but he does like making me happy!   It works out well for both of us as I’d rather have pretty bee hives than jewelry, and you can’t buy a diamond ring for $9.00!

It was so wonderful to spend a weekend at the farm, even with a mouse in the camper!   (That was my motivation to get up at 6:00 a.m.)   I love waking up to the quiet and a view of pine trees.  While we’ll make frequent trips back before then, I’m counting down the days until spring break and a whole week in paradise!

Beekeepers Associations and Groups · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General · Queen Bee

Getting ready for spring

Frames - February 2018
400 Frames waiting for foundation!

The weather hasn’t been conducive to trips to the bee yard the past two weekends, but that doesn’t mean we’re not thinking of our bees.    On days when the temperature in the garage has been above freezing, Hubby has been busy putting frames together in preparation for another year of growth in the apiary.   I’ll help with the foundation just as soon as I get a break from grading, but as soon as I finish one batch of essays, students write the next batch.  This will be the story of my life for the next couple of months, but I will go visit the bees next weekend!

Hubby has been reading a  book about rearing better queens and one of the suggestions is to include frames with starter strips as comb that the bees draw “freeform” apparently leads to bigger queens.    Old comb with all the cocoon remnants in cells can also negatively affect the size of queens — or the bees have to extend the queen cell out and float the egg into the larger area in a sea of royal jelly.   All in all, we’re going to try some new things this spring.    We’ve also been watching many videos on YouTube to get a variety of ideas.   One guy we really like is Ian from Steppler Farms in Ontario.   While he clearly has different weather conditions to us, his experiences are relevant most of the time.   We missed this month’s Mid-State Beekeeper meeting this month because of a conflict with work, but we also really look forward to getting to the next one and learning more from people in our area.   January’s presentation about fire-ants was enlightening and fascinating — and it will change the way we apply fire ant chemicals.

I’ve always noticed the first signs of spring, but now I notice them differently.   That red haze around some maple-trees — that now means pollen and nectar!   A dust of pollen on the car means bee food in addition to allergy flare-ups.  Bee-keeping does indeed change us.

Leveled embankment
Leveled embankment

Before beekeeping, I would have seen the newly leveled area along our driveway as prime land for daylilies and maybe a rose bush or two.   Now I have dreams of buckwheat and clover to provide early food for the bees.  Instead of having a greenhouse full of tomato seedlings, I currently have basil, rosemary and lavender growing.   These plants repel moths, mosquitoes, house-flies, and some beetles, so I plan to plant them around the new hive stands.  Of course, they are also nectar and pollen sources and the rosemary and lavender repel snakes.  That alone shows how much I’ve changed — protecting the hives has become more important than keeping snakes at bay.   Of course, we haven’t seen a rattlesnake in a while, so my priorities might well change with the next sighting!

I don’t know which of us is more impatient to get out of the city, but I doubt the dog will need any more encouragement than the two of us next weekend.   All the hives were active a couple of weeks ago, but we have no idea what’s going on inside them.   My new pollen feeder was popular, so hopefully the queens have been ramping up production and all those frames in the garage will disappear into the new boxes that await paint.  Spring is just about here and I can’t wait to get back to the bees!

 

 

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature

Heater Bees

This is less a blog, and more a quick post to share an interesting article about the bees that keep a hive warm in winter.    As most of the country is in the middle of this long cold-spell, I’m sure that most of us who are beekeepers are concerned about our hives.   We placed candy boards on every hive before we returned to the city, and I hope they add a layer of insulation as well as food.  Still, I worry…..   and we won’t know how well each hive pulled through until it’s warm enough for bees to fly again.

There are some new-to-me facts in this article, such as why it’s not a bad thing when a queen leaves some cells empty when laying eggs.   Enjoy!

How Honey Bees Keep Their Hives Warm Given That They are Cold Blooded